When I was a teen and young adult, I consumed food without thinking about the consequences. My freshman year of high school, I ate toaster pastries for breakfast, lunches consisted of chocolate donut gems, and I ate spaghetti nearly every day as an after-school snack. I loved fast-food restaurants. It is no surprise that I spent most of the year in a negative emotional state. My freshman year of college, I drank 6 Mountain Dews per day and lived on ramen noodles. I became so ill I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and a sinus infection. I didn’t know where my food came from, nor did I notice the negative impact food was having on my body and emotional state. I attributed my health problems, such as my tendency to become hypoglycemic with no warning, to bad genes that I would just have to deal with.
I took zero responsibility for how I was feeling because I didn’t understand the impact food had on the body, and that anything that impacts the body will also impact the brain.
I was forced to learn about mindful eating when I started to develop serious digestive issues while living overseas. For an entire year, I couldn’t eat without feeling nauseous. I started paying attention to how various foods affected my body, and how the environment in which I consumed food impacted my ability to digest food. When I first heard about mindful eating, I thought it meant focusing on chewing my food really well in a positive environment. But mindful eating is more complex than this.
“Mindful eating is the practice of cultivating an open-minded awareness of how the food we choose to eat affects one’s body, feelings, mind, and all that is around us.” – Lexicon of Food
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” – Brillat-Savarin
“Better to eat a dry crust of bread with peace of mind than have a banquet in a house full of trouble” – Proverbs
“Mindful eating is very pleasant. We sit beautifully. We are aware of the people that are sitting around us. We are aware of the food on our plates. This is a deep practice. Each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindful eating is simple, yet deeply complex
Mindful eating is understanding how the food you eat interacts with your unique physiology and the crucial connection between deep breathing and digestion. It is how your thoughts about the food you are eating affect how your body processes this food. It is also understanding how the food was raised and its impact on your mind-body. Mindfulness is being present with your food by taking in its color, texture, taste and smell, but also applying a similar awareness to the environment in which you consume your food. When you connect with those around you as you share a meal, this is mindfulness. When you eat anything, such as grape, a system of complex digestive processes makes that grape a part of you, along with the rain, sun, soil, wind, labor and joy that went into its creation and harvest. This is true nourishment.
Here are some benefits of mindful eating:
1. You develop a deeper understanding of yourself. You understand why you crave certain foods at certain times, and can change your habits due to this level of consciousness.
2. Food is no longer the enemy, but a powerful healer that can nourish your body, balance your mind, and enliven your spirit.
3. You are no longer driven by mindless cravings that propel you to self-medicate with harmful, toxic foods.
4. You naturally crave healing, nutrient-dense food and develop a distaste for fast food and other junk food.
5. Due to eating nutrient-dense food, you feel less hungry throughout the day because your body is getting what it needs.
6. By feeding your mind-body what it needs rather than what your ego craves, you shed pounds and emotional baggage.
7. You feel more emotionally satisfied after a meal by taking the time to enjoy it, making it much less likely that you will eat when you are not hungry, which is what we do when we deprive ourselves of the sensory experience of food by eating on the run or while multi-tasking.
8. Rather than eating to fill a void, you eat in appreciation of the farmer who grew your food, the rain and sun that nourished this food, and the nourishment that this food is now providing you.
9. The consciousness you develop through mindful eating expands to all other aspects of your life, leading to a deeper sense of fulfillment.